Denise Herrmann's Perfect Olympic Day

One of the most memorable feel-good stories at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games occurred on February 7 when Denise Herrmann, six years after her biathlon debut won the Women’s 15 km Individual Gold Medal, bringing her full circle from biathlon novice to the top of the sport.

Fortuitous Conversation in Beijing

Herrmann recalled a conversation with teammate Vanessa Hinz hours before the 15 km. “The day before, Germany won its first Gold medal in luge and I watched the ceremony. I was thinking about what is in your mind, your feelings when you have the Gold medal. It was like a fairy tale or dream. The next morning, I said to Vanessa, “This is crazy; what are you thinking about when you win Gold? She said, ‘This evening, someone of the biathlon girls will be Olympic Champion, in just a few hours.’ (I replied) Yes, for sure, when the race starts someone will win! That day I tried to enjoy it, with passion for the sport. It was a totally clear race for me. I can remember at the end, what I was thinking, how I was focused on parts of the tracks and the shooting…In the last loop, I knew it was a good race with one mistake but I knew someone could shoot zero. I just tried to push with everything that I could. I knew it was a good race but nothing more…It was a perfect day for me, but I had to wait until the end (to know the final result).”

BW: It has been several months now, what does it feel like when someone introduces you as Olympic Champion. Has that whole experience sunk in?

DH: It is crazy when your name and Olympic Champion are in the same sentence. Then you realise that it is reality when someone says it and you look around and think, ‘me?’ Okay there is nobody else, so it must be me.

BW: You recently went home (to Bockau) for a big reception, what was that like?

DH: It was really cool. It is always a pleasure to go home. We are a small village; the atmosphere was really nice. It was so good to be home and meet all my friends and family. It is the place where I grew up; many people are enthusiastic about me and have known me since I was really small. I was super happy to see them and the energy in the village to organise this event.

BW: When you go to an event like that, do you realize how far you have come since you were a little kid?

DH: Yes for sure. The event was in the sports hall at my school, the place where I started in sports and have a lot of nice memories, but then it was sport just for fun. When you have two medals from the Olympics, add up all the years of hard work and think about all of the people that helped and pushed you.

BW: If I told you before the Olympics that you would win the 15 km Individual Gold Medal, what would have been your reaction?

DH: (She laughs) It was a goal to fight for individual medals. The plan that was to not be in the best shape for the season opening. In January, I hoped it would work a bit better; it was a hard time, getting my self-confidence back. There were some hard weeks to hold the goal; your coach and family have to believe in you all the time and I had to believe in myself. When I changed to biathlon, I thought the 15 km was not my favorite, but in the last years, I have liked it more and more after some really good races. It was not my focus. I just wanted to have my old feelings back, the passion for what I do without the pressure. I think it was a victory over myself, my mind; I tried to enjoy my last Olympic Games and have fun in the race, follow the plan and not focus on the results.

BW: You came to biathlon with the desire to be the best but has the road to becoming a World Champion and Olympic Champion been even harder than you expected?

DH: I had just one medal in cross-country and know what hard work is; how much it takes for big success. When I changed it was a goal to be on the relay and maybe fight for medals. There is a big difference between third and first; for this small step takes a lot of hard work. Every success has its own story. But I never thought of World Champion and Olympic Champion; I could never imagine that. The first years went so well. Normally you have a structured plan for the IBU Cup, then the World Cup, but it was quickly IBU Cup victory, World Cup relay victory in the first season on a strong team with Laura Dahlmeier. That really motivates you and you realise that you can go beyond your limit. It was really good for me every day in training to see how well and fast the girls in Ruhpolding shot. That maybe pushed me beyond my limits: to not shoot slow and hit all the targets. I never thought the first years would work out so well.

BW: It would have been easy to walk away from biathlon this spring, was Oberhof the biggest motivation to continue or was it the thought that you might be just reaching your potential and leaving would leave you with a mind full of What ifs?

DH: That is the main thing you must think when you have one or more years to go, that you are not at the top of your limits. You have to think about what part of biathlon can you be better in. That is the motivation every day when it is raining or you fail hitting some targets. You have to think you can improve your level. The home World Championships is a huge motivation for the whole German team. I had really good experiences at Oberhof; good cross-country races at the Tour de Ski. Biathlon in Oberhof is a big party and so much fun. That motivates you and then there will be family friends. When I think about that, I smile and I have even more energy. Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov, Jerry Kokesh

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